When I Was a Kid in San Diego

Assignment from my writing class at Central Carolina Community College
8/2011

When I was a kid two of my neighborhood playmates, Lloyd and Julie, were dragged out of a pond in Hidden Valley where they’d fallen off a raft and drowned. I could feel the dread and sorrow hanging in my parents’ unspoken fears. I could see it in the eyes of my friend, Stanley Bolas and the Arboghast boys, too. This is why I was forbidden to venture into “the canyon.” And my mom would not hesitate to whoop my ass with the wooden spoon if I ever disobeyed that prohibition. But she had to catch me first.
Living on Clairemont Mesa, in San Diego meant being surrounded by canyons. We lived on hilltop islands shaved clean for our cookie cutter tract houses. Below us the oak and sycamores beckoned us to come climb them. Rabbits, deer, cowboys and cattle, corals, streams, and of course Farmer’s Pond where my friends had died all provided all the attractive nuisance I needed to tempt me out of the confines of the Heritage housing development..
But, years before I ever disobediently walked down into the abyss of my mother’s fears, I knew the canyon was there. I could hear it. After kindergarten one afternoon, mom and I ate our baloney sandwiches, listened to One Man’s Family and then she put me down for a nap. I laid down on the tufted chenille blanket, a soft ocean breeze wafted the curtains, carressing my little body with cool pleasure.. In the distance I could hear the throaty growl of a propeller driven plane growing as it flew over the mesa. The pitch of its drone dropped into the gorges and then climbed the scale like a baritone saxophone, tripping up and down as the sound waves reverberated through chasm and hill. It was like the call of a big bird, spiking my curiosity, a lullaby luring me to discover its secrets.
“Rules are made to be broken,” my mother told me more than once. The rule of not sneaking into the canyon was one of the first I abandoned.
Dropping off the end of Constitution Road one street up from us was a steep, perilous skid for a 7 year old used to concrete and asphalt. The yerba santa scrub stood as blackened sentinels burned by a brush fire the year I’d first heard the canyon’s call. Sliding a hundred yards down the hill I skided to a stop at the base of the big oak where Hector would later break his wrist jumping to catch the tire swing. Gazing behind me the hillside was a yellow blaze of mustard blossoms covering the hillsides all the way to the beach. I was suddenly in another world. It was all the canyon’s sonic call promised, and more. Later in the summer, after the blooms were gone and the mustard stalks had dried, the hillside would become a sledding hill without the need for snow. It was surfing without the waves.
Climbing up through the slick thatch, a three foot square of cardboard in hand, my buddies and I jumped on our fiberous magic carpets and slid ass down hill until we hit bare dirt and tumbled off ready to do it again. One’s speed was limited only by the distance you climbed and the guts it took make that climb. One day, Alex Calica rode down on his belly and a protruding stick punched through and tore a bloody gash into his belly. Nothing a few stitches wouldn’t fix; but that was the last time I remember Alex descending into the canyon with us.
Of course, the real forbidden destination was Farmer’s Pond. It lived in my memory as a place that had brought death to our street and into our young boy consciousness. But after I’d learned to swim—that was the problem for Lloyd and Julie, they couldn’t swim—I was ready to break my mother’s gravest rule.
Carl Schneider, Rick Frank and I started out early that Saturday and got to the pond by mid morning. The surface glimmered green as the sun angled onto the surface. Cattails circled the ten acre circumference, and the raft, yes, that raft, was pulled up on the sand like it was waiting just for us. Careless, without a thought, so like little boys, we strode up to examine our craft. Hammered together from logs and scrap wood, heads of nails hanging out ready to rip flesh and infect with lock jaw, she looked just fine to us. It was a day like no other in my young memory. We were all Tom Sawyer for the day, fishing poles in hand, in the middle of the pond, diving off, laughing, in another world.

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